Swarm Bots: Now W/Solar Power, Complex Behaviors!

swarm collage.jpg
I-SWARM robots are three-legged solar-powered droids which are less than 4 mm long, wide, tall. Two things to note: 1) I-SWARM stands for "intelligent small-world autonomous robots for micro-manipulation." Physorg explains:
...a single microrobot by itself is a physically simple individual. But many robots communicating with each other using infrared sensors and interacting with their environment can form a group that is capable of establishing swarm intelligence to generate more complex behavior.
Like foraging... 2) it's now possible for them to be mass-manufactured. Physorg explains:
The researchers, from institutes in Sweden, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, explain that their building approach marks a new paradigm of robot development in microrobotics. The technique involves integrating an entire robot — with communication, locomotion, energy storage, and electronics — in different modules on a single circuit board. In the past, the single-chip robot concept has presented significant limitations in design and manufacturing. However, instead of using solder to mount electrical components on a printed circuit board as in the conventional method, the researchers use conductive adhesive to attach the components to a double-sided flexible printed circuit board using surface mount technology. The circuit board is then folded to create a three-dimensional robot... As this was the first test of this fabrication technique, the researchers noted that they encountered some fabrication problems. The single largest problem was to connect the naked integrated circuit to the flexible printed circuit board by the conductive adhesive. Also, some solar cells did not stick due to weak adhesion... Many of these complications could likely be corrected, with the important result being that the microrobots can be assembled using a surface mounting machine, whereas prior robots have usually been manually assembled with a soldering iron... In the future, the researchers hope to move from building academic prototypes to manufacturing the robot on a commercial basis, which is necessary for overcoming some of the technical issues. By mass-producing swarms of robots, the loss of some robotic units will be negligible in terms of cost, functionality, and time, yet still achieve a high level of performance. Currently, the researchers hope to find funding to reach these goals. "Right now the robots need a new ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit] and some other redesigns to be able to work properly," Edqvist said. "We have, however, (in a not yet published article) shown that the robot would have been able to walk at 3.0 V (the solar cell delivers 3.6 V), so with new funding, they could be up and running and be produced in large numbers."
Be afraid. Be very afraid. [via BotJunkie]
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23 Responses to Swarm Bots: Now W/Solar Power, Complex Behaviors!

  1. Dolnor says:

    I say….Replicators! Another case of SciFi (Stargate) coming into reality! -(

  2. bcsizemo says:

    I’ve been more fascinated by the researchers that study this than the actual robots they build.

    Like everyone says, bees. Okay…they aren’t exactly the simplest hive based insect. I’d say ants might be easier to replicate, but even they have a social construct and appear to follow undefined rules.

    What is the exact outcome the researchers are hoping for? They’ve created tiny robots that find a “food source” and bring it back to a certain point. Well if they can communicate then it shouldn’t be long before there is a pretty exact path to and from that source. To me it looks like very basic programming (in terms of the idea of a hive mentality). I can’t ever see this progressing beyond insect/group/crowd behavior.

  3. dd says:

    Pollinate like a bee – good
    Breed like a Queen bee – may not be good
    Sting like a bee – no good :)

  4. zikman says:

    @phisrow: or “three legs good, two legs bad”

  5. JayeRandom says:

    My paraphrase of the lead paragraph of the Physorg article:
    “Tiny robots the size of a flea could one day be mass-produced, churned out in swarms and programmed for a variety of applications, such as surveillance, micromanufacturing, surveillance, medicine, surveillance, cleaning, and more.”

  6. tuckles says:

    To walk on two legs breaks the law!

  7. coop says:

    Stargate SG-1 Replicators

  8. Takuan says:

    pollinator trojans.

  9. Anton Angelo says:

    All we need now is an EMP based flyswatter.

  10. symetriade says:

    I wish that robotics researchers would read Stanislaw Lem’s “The Invincible”. From the Wikipedia entry:

    “A powerful interstellar space ship, a ‘second-class cruiser’ called Invincible, lands on the planet Regis III which seems uninhabited and bleak, to investigate the loss of sister ship, Condor. During the investigation, the crew finds evidence of a form of quasi-life, born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines. The evolution was controlled by ‘robot wars’, and the only form that survived were swarms of minuscule, insect-like machines. Individually, or in small groups, they are quite harmless to humans and capable of only very simple behavior. However, when bothered, they can assemble into huge swarms displaying complex behavior arising from self-organization, and are able to defeat an intruder by a powerful surge of EMI. Some members of the spacecraft crew suffered a complete memory erasure as a consequence. Big clouds of ‘insects’ are also capable to travel at a high speed and even to climb to the top of troposphere. The angered crew attempts to fight the enemy, but eventually recognizes the meaninglessness of their efforts in the most direct sense of the word.”

    More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invincible

    Or perhaps they have read it and thought that it was a “how to” rather than a cautionary tale :-(

  11. symetriade says:

    Two more points:

    1. Lem’s novel was originally published in 1964. It is now the early 2000s, and we already have the first prototypes of this type of technology. Sure, “…they are quite harmless to humans and capable of only very simple behavior.” But what would it look like 50 years from now?.. 500 years from now?.. After the military/criminal types have a go at it?..

    2. Lem’s novel took place on a remote planet, uninhabited by live beings, at least not anymore (except for deep-sea creatures that turned tail rapidly at the mere sight of anything robotic…). In contrast, the experiments described in this story are being conducted right here, on our own Earth, before we had time to find a backup planet.

  12. K says:

    You should also read Lem’s Summa Technologiae for more on the future of nanotehcnology, written in the 60s. So far he has been on spot with developments in computer and robotics technology since.

  13. Kali Chan says:

    I totally thought of the diamond age when I read this article..it got me way excited too. I LOVE that book!

  14. dd says:

    Pollinate flowers like a bee – nice
    Breed like a Queen bee – may not be nice
    Sting like a bee – not nice

  15. sa says:

    Perfect way to receive some more information about flyswatter, is to buy essay and research papers.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I for one welcome our new robot over.. underlords.

  17. SamSam says:

    I was actually just talking with someone who was working with a research team at Harvard looking to make some kind of prototype robotic “bee.”

    My first assumption was that he meant a little, flying robot that would be used for spying or something like that.

    It turned out that it was more literal than that: they want swarms of little, flying robots that could actually pollinate flowers if real bees ever become endangered or extinct…


  18. Enochrewt says:

    These type of things always remind me of Neil Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”.

    Eventually I’ll have to dust my apartment more often.

  19. TimmoWarner says:

    I, for one, welcome our tiny robotic overlords.

  20. phisrow says:

    Is there enough room for a tiny SMT speaker on each one?

    I’m pretty sure that they’d be scarier if they chanted “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in tiny robotic voices as they crawl around.

  21. FAKE says:

    According to the article, these robots don’t actually move. They’re basically pretend. “Hey, look! I glued a tiny piece of a solar panel onto a piece of circuit board and bent some wires to look like legs. Give me some more funding.”

  22. siliconsunset says:


    I am afraid and excited.

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